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JUDGE TO DEFENDANT: “IF YOU WANT TO APPEAL THIS VERDICT, YOU HAVE NO RECORD”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Mar. 4, 2011) — The Post & Email has spoken with the father of a young man who was stopped for allegedly speeding while on his way home in McMinn County, TN, which is part of the Tenth Judicial District encompassing Monroe, McMinn, Bradley and Polk Counties.
The fine for the ticket was originally $50 plus court costs, but because judicial misconduct was exposed early on, the court costs were dropped. The defendant challenged the speeding ticket by requesting a jury trial, which the initial judge affirmed was his legal right. However, Judge Amy Reedy, who was to preside at the trial, decided that “she wasn’t going to give him one” after having ex parte communications with the prosecutor by her own admission. The defendant’s father filed a complaint against Reedy for misconduct, after which she issued a warrant for the son’s arrest.
The father’s account of what happened to his son follows.
MR. WHITING: My son was leaving the movie theater with some other boys. The movie was one of those that run after midnight, so it was after 12:30 a.m. when they left the theater. The cars all left at the same time and were all going at the same speed. My son drives a 1972 Oldsmobile 442, which is a very hot-looking car. The officer approached them and pulled up not quite to the side, but far enough to the side that he could see in there, and the very first statements he made on the tape recording we received through discovery were “Carload of kids hidin’ their s*** from me.” Those were his exact words.
MRS. RONDEAU: That was on the audiotape?
MR. WHITING: Yes, it was from his dash camera. Now, my son doesn’t smoke, drink or anything, so there was nothing in the car. The officer never even attempted to search the car, but he did pull him over and he told him that he had him for doing 85. My son’s comment was, “I don’t believe I ever went over 75.”
MRS. RONDEAU: What was the speed limit?
MR. WHITING: 70. They were all traveling together at 12:45 in the morning, and he chose to stop them because they were kids. My son told me, “Dad, I wasn’t going over 75,” but he also said that on the tape with the officer. So I told him to go in there and “tell them you want a jury trial.” The purpose of that is not to disrespect the court or the judges. The fact is, they’ve heard every story, every excuse, and they’re going to find you guilty 99% of the time, and the 1% will be their friends or friends of friends. So I told him to go ask for a jury trial.
He was told by the court clerk that he could not get a jury trial. So he called me up and I was working, and he said, “Well, Dad, I’m just going home to get the money to pay it; they told me I can’t have a jury trial.”
MRS. RONDEAU: How much was the fine?
MR. WHITING: It was $50 plus court costs. So I told him to turn back around and go down there and I’d meet him there. I asked him who told him that, and it was the clerk. I asked her, “Did you tell my son he could not have a jury trial?” and she said, “Yes, I did; he’s not allowed to have one.” I told her, pretty much verbatim, “Ma’am, no disrespect, but you’re here to push the papers. You do not get to make judicial decisions. We want a written order that is appealable, and if we get a written order, we’ll take that and we’ll deal with it from there. Otherwise, we’re going to file a suit against you because you don’t have the right to deny him anything legally.”
She got really mad but said, “If you want to go see the judge, just go sit in the courtroom.” Meanwhile, she informed the district attorney and the judge what we wanted. So the district attorney called my son over and I was with him, and he said, “It’s my understanding that you want a jury trial for this,” and he said, “Yes, sir.” The district attorney said, “Well, you need to sign a waiver waiving your right to this hearing.” So my son signed. Judge Watson called him up and said, “Mr. Whiting, I see here that you’re requesting a jury trial; it’s a bit unorthodox, but it is your right; good luck.” And he set it for a trial date in Judge Amy Reedy’s court.
The first hearing we had we were told after sitting in there for a while that the grand jury did not come back with an indictment yet, that they were going to reset our trial for a later date. After getting notice of the new date, we went to court, and the judge made incredibly derogatory comments to my son. She was very upset at the fact that he wanted a jury trial, as she saw it as a waste of time. I saw it as a right. She then asked him about wanting a jury trial and he said, “Yes,” and she asked him several questions. She basically said, “Are you educated at all? What grade did you make it to?” You would have to hear the audio to understand how derogatory she was to him to the point where even the people in the courtroom were making sounds like “Uh-oh.” She was quite mad at him.
MRS. RONDEAU: So there were witnesses to this?
MR. WHITING: Oh, gosh, the courtroom was packed. She made her comments, and then she set a trial date.
We came back in for the trial, and it turned out that she and her prosecutor had discussed this case and decided that it did not warrant and justify a jury trial, and therefore she wasn’t going to give him one. Now what’s important to note about that is that she openly said on the record that she and the prosecutor had discussed the case at an ex parte hearing, which is illegal. She said that she was going to hear the case herself the following day.
Before we left, she said, “Are you ready for trial?” and he told her he was, that we did object to not having a jury, but we were ready.
So we came back in the next day for trial, and she again said, “The prosecutor and I discussed this, and we don’t believe you have the right to any trial in this courtroom, and we’re going to remand it back down to Judge Watson and let him dispose of it.” Now what’s important is that before the hearing started, she told the court reporter to turn off the record and leave, and he did. And she said to my son, “Now, Mr. Hot-Shot Attorney, you have no record. If you want to appeal this verdict, you have no record.”
MRS. RONDEAU: And she said that in open court?
MR. WHITING: She absolutely did. The only people in the court at the time were my son, the bailiff, the prosecutor, the judge, the court reporter and me. The judge also told my son, when he was sitting next to me, “You need to move away from your dad; you come up here; you don’t need your daddy.” Her statements were incredibly derogatory and intended to ridicule him for standing up for his rights.
Then she informed him that she was not giving him a trial but was going to remand it back down, and she said, “Now what do you think of that?” and he started to say, “I don’t know,” and I shouted out to him, “Samuel, go ahead and object.” And she said, “Well, if you object, what do you think I should do with it?” So I shouted out again, “Tell her she messed the case up, and she needs to dismiss it.” And he started to repeat it, and she said, “I believe I’ve heard that.” So she talked to the prosecutor and they both agreed that they really had no legal recourse but to dismiss it. But she dismissed it without prejudice and said, “We can reinstate it if we choose to.” And they dismissed it.
We filed a judiciary complaint against her for her statements that she made and the way she made them. Upon finding out about our complaint, she issued a warrant for my son’s arrest and reinstated the case. Now I personally spoke to (District Attorney General) Steve Bebb at his office in person with my dad, and he informed us that he absolutely had nothing to do with that; that had they wanted to reinstate it, they would have given us a written notice to appear without putting out a warrant. He said that this was done directly by her. What’s important to keep in mind out of all of this is that the very most they can get is $50. Now originally, they could have gotten $50 plus court costs, but they waived that in order to throw it out of her courtroom because the law says if it’s $50, court costs or points, you have the right to jury trial. So the prosecutor said, “Well, we’re not going to ask for points, and we’re not going to ask for court costs; that way we can throw it out of here.”
So the very most they could get at this point is $50, but it was a personal vendetta from Amy Reedy against my son and me because we had the tenacity to file a complaint against her for the way she treated him.
MRS. RONDEAU: And she found out about it?
MR. WHITING: Well, obviously, she did, because she responded to it. What’s typical about it is they found that there was no evidence to prosecute her, although we had the transcript that she supplied where she acknowledges that she and the prosecutor spoke about the case. And Steve Bebb said that he was going to discipline his officer for that. So when one party is being disciplined for it, there’s obviously some evidence there that warrants at least a proper investigation. But I was told that they did not ask the prosecutor about it; they did not ask me about it, and I was in the courtroom. They never questioned Samuel about it, so they never did an investigation.
The transcript itself mentions the ex parte hearing, so obviously the evidence was there. They have a recording of these hearings, and it was clear that they should have obtained the recording and listened to it themselves. But it’s clear that they didn’t, because had they done it, they would have heard it, and they could also read it on the transcript.
So where we are today is that my son is driving around with a warrant out for him. They haven’t picked him up yet; they have come up to the house on three different occasions, and I informed the officer politely that we would not assist him; that we would not tell him when Samuel was or was not there; we wouldn’t be rude and they were welcome to come up, but that we basically were not going to assist them in serving a warrant. And he said, no problem; he understood. He said he thought there was something kind-of strange for a warrant for $50.
This was not for failure to pay; it was strictly to bring it back to court. Then it would go to Judge Watson’s courtroom.
They never did deal with the evidence; they just basically dismissed it. So that’s where we’re at today. Our feeling is that instead of the judge being upset with him for exercising his right, she should have been proud of him. He’s 19 years old and he’s willing to stand there and defend himself, and instead of her saying, “Well, young man; this is a challenge; I respect you for it,” she just blasted him from start to finish.
Another thing that’s important is that the day before the hearing when she said that she wasn’t going to allow us to have a jury trial, she made the statement that “this is a court of record.” We had asked whether or not we needed to bring in our own stenographer, and they said, “It’s a court of record.” But then the day of the trial, she said it’s not. The fact is, she had no legal authority to tell the court reporter to turn off the record.
MRS. RONDEAU: Everything should be recorded, shouldn’t it?
MR. WHITING: Absolutely. That is, in criminal court. Everything in criminal court is recorded. The court reporter stated in his response, because she asked him to send in an affidavit, that it was his determination to turn it off and that he stayed in the courtroom and the judge treated Samuel very respectfully and everything else. He was not in that courtroom. He was not there. He perjured himself there, and even on the transcript, if they would obtain the record and look at the transcript vs. the actual tape, they will see that he doctored it numerous times.
MRS. RONDEAU: Have you read the transcript?
MR. WHITING: Oh, absolutely. I have a copy of it.
MRS. RONDEAU: Were things left out or changed?
MR. WHITING: Absolutely. They were changed and left out. For example, she only asked him what grade he made it to in the transcript. But the way she actually said it was, “Are you even educated? What grade did you make it to?” and it was extremely derogatory. None of that was in there. There were other comments she made that were not in there. As I said, that audiotape would have clearly showed what she said had the Judiciary Committee obtained a copy. But they did not.
MRS. RONDEAU: People in Monroe County have also claimed that transcripts are “doctored,” and the court transcriptionist has told me, “We don’t do audios,” meaning that they don’t make them available to the public. But there had to be an audio from which a written transcript is produced.
MR. WHITING: That is correct. There is an audio; that’s the only way he can make a written transcript. He is not sitting there as a stenographer who types it; he strictly records. If they had had a stenographer, they could argue that she didn’t get it or something else, but the fact is that they have a physical recording that we cannot get a hold of.
MRS. RONDEAU: What is their reason for refusing to produce it?
MR. WHITING: They told me, “You have to deal with the court reporter for it.” He has spoken with me only once, and he said, “We don’t give them out; you cannot obtain it.” He said, “You can pay me to transcribe it,” and I said, “I already have a transcription. I want a copy of the audio.” And he said, “You cannot get that.”
Now I would assume that if we filed a federal suit and got into major money, we could, but you’re talking a major effort to get that. It is clear that Amy Reedy took out a personal vendetta and even the fact that I don’t believe you can show that anybody has ever served a warrant for a $50 ticket. It’s just not done.
MRS. RONDEAU: Can you file another complaint against her for issuing that warrant?
MR. WHITING: We put in a letter with our original complaint when we found out about it. We filed an amended complaint basically informing them that not only has she responded, but we now have the transcript and we showed where the ex parte hearing clearly took place. We also mentioned the fact that it was clear that she took a personal vendetta to this based on the issuing of the warrant.
MRS. RONDEAU: Are you aware that you can file a complaint against a court reporter?
MR. WHITING: In a letter to the Court Judiciary Committee, we asked if they were the party with whom we would file such a complaint, and they verbally said, “Yes.” So in our letter we said that we would like to include him in the complaint for doctoring the file. We have never had a response to that.
In the case of the speeding charge against my son, it says that he “willingly or knowingly” was speeding. But when he informed the officer that he never went over 75, he clearly dispelled the fact that he was not doing what the officer claimed. What’s more important is that when they supplied us the tape, it never once showed my son speeding at all. It showed the officer getting up to, I believe, 90 mph, but it never showed Samuel speeding at all.
The transcript they gave us didn’t even show anything until after he was coming up and behind him. And all they could use in court was what they supplied.
MRS. RONDEAU: Do you think the officers in McMinn County are looking to pull people over to bring in revenue?
MR. WHITING: I have a very high opinion of our sheriff, whom I think is going to be wonderful. He’s a new sheriff. There was a situation that I know he handled the first few weeks he was in office. Bill, a buddy of mine who is in the roofing business, which is what I’m in, had a son who had taken his truck to his house and ended up in some fight where the truck was searched and there were some drugs in it. They got a warrant to go search the house, and there were some drugs in the house. So both were seized. I’m not talking bad about the old sheriff, because I don’t know good or bad about him, but at the point where Donny went in and proved that he had no knowledge and had nothing to do with it, Joe (the sheriff) ordered that the stuff be returned. I personally know Joe from having talked to him at a football game, and I said to him, “I want to tell you I really think that was the right thing you guys did.” And he said, “Well, one thing we’re not in is the business of legalized theft.” So that’s just one example, but I believe he’s going to make a good sheriff.
MRS. RONDEAU: So your complaint is strictly against the judiciary?
MR. WHITING: Oh, absolutely. I have no complaint with the officers at all, not even with the officer who made the stop, although I differ with him as far as the stop goes. I have no personal problem with him; I believe that’s what we have the right to a trial for, to determine whether or not my son did it. Has he taken any other action to be vindictive against my son? Other than the fact of his statement, I would say “no.” Now I believe he stopped them because they were a carload of kids, and that’s wrong. Do I believe that he has a personal thing against my son? No. Now the judge absolutely does. Even the prosecutor, to my knowledge, has no personal thing against my son. I think he looked at it as it was a case, and they lost, and then he moved on.
MRS. RONDEAU REPLIES: Had you ever dealt with Judge Reedy before?
MR. WHITING: No, it was our first encounter with her.
MRS. RONDEAU: How has this affected your son’s life?
MR. WHITING: It hasn’t. He’s totally fine with it all. Now, if they do arrest him, we will probably end up going into a Title 42 federal suit on it. As long as he’s never arrested, booked and fingerprinted, he considers it pretty much over. That’s where we’re at. He doesn’t worry about it; doesn’t even give it a thought.
MRS. RONDEAU: You sound like someone who has researched U.S. Code, the U.S. Constitution and your state’s statutes thoroughly.
MR. WHITING: I’ve spent a lot of time in court. I actually have a case that you can look up that set precedent called “Whiting v. Trylor.”
MRS. RONDEAU: Are you an attorney?
MR. WHITING: No, but I have been into law since I was a young kid, about 21 or 22. I’ve always believed that people should stand for their rights, and that’s why I encouraged my son to stand up for that. Even had he lost, I would want him to stand up and say, “This is not right.” It wasn’t a personal thing against the officer; it wasn’t a personal thing against the court. It was strictly a matter of something that he had a right to do. And they shouldn’t take it personally. Judge Watson absolutely did not take it personally. He merely said, “This is your right.” He handled it the way it should have been handled, and that was our first involvement in the McMinn County court system. We’ve never had anyone in the family who had any other issues in the county court at all.
MRS. RONDEAU: Not that that should matter.
MR. WHITING: No, it shouldn’t. All of my cases were down in Florida, and it would take hours to explain them, but some of them are quite interesting, and I had a fairly good time with them. I can explain Whiting v. Trylor to you on another occasion.
MRS. RONDEAU: If it has anything to do with government corruption, we try to cover it.
MR. WHITING: Yes, it did. It’s an old case, but it did. A quick overview of the story is that when we were all said and done with that case, we absolutely proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer had backdated paperwork and falsified information. Instead of prosecuting him, they chose to fight it, and they lost in federal court. But all they ended up doing was taking him off of the water – he was on the Marine Patrol – and putting him behind a desk, so he never got in any trouble for it. So the governor ordered an investigation. The district attorney’s office investigated itself and said that it was the Marine Patrol that had done everything wrong, but the Marine Patrol said that it was the state attorney’s office which told them to do everything wrong, and the governor concluded both reports to be correct.
MRS. RONDEAU: Is that possible?
MR. WHITING: It’s absolutely impossible, but that’s how they work. He only ordered the investigation because the judge who heard the case wrote a letter to the governor and said, “If there was ever a case of government corruption that is provable, here it is.” So he couldn’t ignore the letter from the judge. That judge was arrested after my case; that’s how personally they took it. Then he resigned as judge to run for sheriff because of my case, and he won. It’s a long story, but it’s a very good one.
MRS. RONDEAU: What would a Title 42 lawsuit contend?
MR. WHITING: It’s a civil rights violation. The judge has made a personal attack against my son as a vendetta. That is a civil rights violation.